- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

STAFFORD, Kan. (AP) — Whooping cranes have waged a valiant fight against extinction, but federal officials warn of a new potential threat to the endangered birds: wind farms.

Down to about 15 in 1941, the gargantuan birds that migrate each fall from Canada to Texas now number 266, thanks to conservation efforts.

But because wind energy has gained such traction, whooping cranes could again be at risk — either from crashing into the towering wind turbines and transmission lines or because of habitat lost to the wind farms.

“Basically you can overlay the strongest, best areas for wind turbine development with the whooping crane migration corridor,” said Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service estimates as many as 40,000 turbines will be erected in the U.S. section of the whooping cranes’ 200-mile wide migration corridor.

“Even if they avoid killing the cranes, the wind farms would be taking hundreds of square miles of migration stopover habitat away from the cranes,” Mr. Stehn said.

The American Wind Energy Association says the industry grew by 45 percent last year, providing about 1 percent of the nation’s energy.

It says its 1,400 member companies don’t want their turbines, power lines, transmission towers and roadways to hurt the cranes, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty.

“We would hate to see any collisions with whooping cranes,” said Laurie Jodziewicz, the association’s manager of siting policy. “It would be very distressing for everybody.”

But Miss Jodziewicz said the wind industry will continue to grow in the crane’s migration corridor and should not be subject to regulations that don’t apply to other industries.

“It’s a very windy area,” she said. “We certainly want to work toward minimizing impacts, but there is a real driver behind wind energy, which is the need for clean, renewable electricity.

“There are many other things going on in that corridor that could potentially affect that species. So to say that wind development should be stopped while allowing all sorts of other activities to continue might not be the right course of action.”

Nicholas Throckmorton, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency lacks the authority to demand that wind developers confer with it.

“There are no forced consultations,” Mr. Throckmorton said, “other than pointing out that it’s illegal to kill endangered species or migrating species.”

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